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Semester 2 Research

Studying gameplay progression on runners

In his gamasutra blog, Marcelo Raimbault created the following chart based on his research into popular runner games.



Warm up

The warm up zone is just as it says, it gives the player time to warm up and get used to the game.  It’s also a place where the player doesn’t fail and just enjoys the game in a safe zone. It lasts 7-12 seconds.

He recommends that during this stage the following is done:

A short list of things that can/should be done during this block:

  • Emphasize game core mechanic
  • Introduce collectibles
  • Show secondary missions


The second block is where you “calibrate” players reaction times by giving them an easy challenge and introduce obstacles.


This block is about rewarding players for trying again and it’s when you introduce special items they can collect, change colours or backgrounds and include some “random Wow moment”.

This block is to demonstrate how cool the game is by adding collectables that fit with the game’s core mechanics.  It’s another safe zone so the player shouldn’t fail to collect stuff.


This is where the serious game play begins and you challenge players in different ways according to the game mechanic.  Perhaps just increase the game speed or organise challenges by difficulty.


Rest blocks are safe zones between challenge blocks.  They allow time to celebrate how well the player has done and players should be rewarded with collectibles, item and anything that make it relaxing.  Rest blocks are 2-3 times longer that reward blocks because players are more stressed compared to when they entered a reward block.


Unique challenges

Give the players a more unusual challenge and one that is harder to overcome.  Because they have just rested, warm them up by giving them a basic obstacle first.

Extra life

It’s good to reward player when they use an extra life by rewarding them.  It’s a nice idea to restart the game with a reward block and they can move through the game core loop again.

Raimbault suggests sticking to the basic analysis even if you add some different block that better satisfy the game’s core mechanic.

Notes from article

Darran Jamieson,  Making Difficult Fun: How to Challenge Your Players.

Challenging but fun

“One of the most fundamental elements of gameplay design is challenge ….. but one that they can complete”

“We can think of every gameplay element as a mini-challenge. When you’re playing Mario, you move to the right. First challenge, jump over a pit. Jump over a goomba. Jump on a koopa. All of these things are challenges that must be overcome.

If the game was simply “jump over a goomba” ten thousand times, it’d be tedious. But because the challenges differ slightly each time (oh, this one is on a platform, and this one is protected by a Hammer Brother, etc.) it provides enough variation for the player to keep interest”.

To keep the game interesting modify the challenges.  You can get away with simple gameplay if the “min-challenges” are constantly changing or evolving.

“In a game like Mario, you can keep reusing the same basic challenge (jump over a pit) if you make slight modifications to it (this one is guarded by an enemy, this one has a moving platform)”.

Notes from Patrick Holleman – “How to Design Levels With the “Super Mario World Method”

  • Don’t make the “difficult” “tedious” so if a player dies then don’t make them start the game again. Mario games contain “infinite continues” and “mid-level checkpoints” so that if the player dies they don’t have to play the same thing over and over again.
  • A challenging game pushes a player to master their skills, not force them to repeat something until they’ve made a mistake.


  • Include a choice of difficulties (easy/hard) at the start of a game but there is no guarantee that they will select the correct level.
  • “There exists the possibility to design your game for all skill levels: where a crossover of players can enjoy the game without being forced into a particular path.
  • Grand Theft Auto is arguably the most popular of the “crossover” games. It’s an incredibly successful title series, and for good reason—for the most part, it has something for everyone to enjoy”.
  • Jetpack Joyride is an endless runner game which means levels have no “win-state” – you play until you die. Aim of the game – to beat your own score?
  • Team Fortess 2 has “the sentry” which requires teamwork to take one down. If you’re an unskilled player it’s impossible.
  • Make the solutions obvious so casual players don’t get stuck

What makes your game hard? Pixel perfect jumps, tests of skill?

Get feedback for hard vs unfair.  Watch people play your game and see which parts they find difficult, which are fun, which are annoying.  Test with everyone, class mates, children, serious gamers and people who never play and make notes about where they get stuck and then see if it’s the game or them.

Reward system is great – giving a player additional points for completing challenges with restrictions.  E.g. when you complete a level with Angry Birds you get one to three stars, Hitman players get graded A+ to F, Lego Marvel you can achieve “True Believer” status.  It gives players an additional goal to a high score to aim for.

Failing a challenge?

Distinction between failing and punishing a player.

Does the game get harder as the skill of the player increases?

In an endless player game if the player has to play through “easy” to get to the fun part, then the game might be boring.

Select a difficulty level allowing a player to skip easy levels, or turbo button allowing the player to play at double speed?

“A good general rule of thumb for providing a challenge is: “Is this something the player can be realistically expected to do, or are they going to fail?”

Cognitive Flow: The Psychology of Great Game Design

In his article for gamasutra Sean Baron, Microsoft Studios User Researcher, outlines the concept of Cognitive Flow and how it can help game developers improve player engagement.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi evaluated Flow and he discovered that a person’s skill and the difficulty of a task interact to result in different cognitive and emotional states. When skill is too low and the task too hard, people become anxious. If the task is too easy and skill too high, people become bored.

However, when skill and difficulty are roughly proportional, people enter Flow states.

When in these states people can experience extreme focus on a task, a sense of active control, merging of action and awareness, loss of self awareness, distortion of the experience of time and the experience that the the task being the only necessary justification for continuing it.

Flow, boredom, and anxiety as they relate to task difficulty and user skill level. Adapted from Csikszentmihalyi, 1990.

Csikszentmihaly outline four characteristics


  1. Games should have concrete goals with manageable rules
  2. Games should only demand actions that fit within a players capabilities
  3. Games should give clear and timely feedback on player performance
  4. Games should remove any extraneous information that inhibits concentration

1.Concrete goals with manageable rules

Gamers are more likely to stop playing if they don’t know what their goals are, how they can accomplish them or which techniques they need to use to solve a puzzle.

2. Games should only demand actions that fit within a players capabilities

Performance as a function of Arousal/Stress. Adapted from Yerkes & Dodson, 1908, and Hanin, 2007.

3. Feedback

Games should give clear and timely feedback on player performance because players who get feedback want to play more.  Feedback directly after or midway through the completion of an action leads to the strongest connection between action and outcomes.

The figure below shows that simultaneous timing of feedback with the onset of actions doesn’t really lead to associations.

4.  Gamers should remove extraneous information that inhibits concentration.  For designers this means that they need to maintain a level of simplicity across their games.

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